KEVIN Ward Junior had enough marijuana in his system to impair his judgement the night he was killed in a sprint car incident with NASCAR star Tony Stewart, according to the district attorney who handled the case.
Stewart won’t face manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide charges after a grand jury investigation determined there was insufficient evidence to indict the three-time NASCAR champion.
The grand jury's investigation took less than two weeks to reach the finding that Stewart had no case to answer in the death of fellow driver Kevin Ward Junior in a bizarre incident during a sprint car stoppage at a dirt track in New York State on the night of August 9.
Ward, who had spun after a touch from Stewart during the race, died after he exited his car and was hit in what looked like an attempt to remonstrate with the star during the subsequent stoppage at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Video of the incident shows 20-year-old Ward walking on to the track to gesture angrily toward Stewart's machine. Moments later he was fatally hit by Stewart’s sprint car. Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said grand jury has conducted interviews around two dozen witnesses including race drivers, track officials, and incident reconstructionists.
He also revealed that several videos of the fatal incident were enhanced and analysed and did not show any evidence of a crime. Importantly, Tantillo said there was evidence showing that on the night of the race Ward had enough marijuana in his system to impair his judgement.
The Ward family disagreed with the finding and issued a statement saying the matter "is not at rest".
The family believes that Stewart, who has a history of anger management problems, was intentionally trying to intimidate Ward by accelerating and sliding his car towards him.
“The focus should be on Mr Stewart and not my son. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin,” the family said in a statement.
New York police cannot ask someone to submit to a drug test until they are charged with a crime, Tantillo said by way of explaining why Stewart did not have to provide a blood sample and was not given any type of alcohol or drug test.
“A certified drug recognition expert had interviewed him [Stewart] on the night of the collision and determined he found no basis to observe any alcohol consumption or impairment by drugs,” Tantillo said.
Stewart is a polarising figure in American motor sport, and social media has predictably lit up with opinions split on the no-charge announcement. In a statement, Stewart said the past two months had been the "toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever".
“I respect everything the district attorney and sheriff’s office did to thoroughly investigate this tragic accident. While the process was long and emotionally difficult, it allowed for all the facts of the accident to be identified and known," Stewart said.
“While much of the attention has been on me, it’s important to remember a young man lost his life," he said. "Kevin Ward Junior’s family and friends will always be in my thoughts and prayers.”